Buick Goes Smaller

The 2011 Buick Regal.

During the turmoil of General Motors’ bankruptcy and recovery, the company pared its brand lineup down to four. Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC were kept, while Pontiac and Saturn got the old heave-ho. The strong survived, and that included the Buick nameplate, which slots nicely between Chevrolet and Cadillac as far as price and prestige go.

So while solid Buick offerings like the Enclave crossover and LaCrosse sedan have been good for the brand, a wider product offering is needed to ensure future growth. To achieve that goal, and to help with overall corporate fuel economy, GM reached across the Atlantic to its Opel division. After a little bit of restyling and some upgrades to please the U.S. Department of Transportation, voila, the Opel Insignia became the Buick Regal.

It’s a nicely sized four door sedan, with just a bit of flair. It’s not over the top, and the white example I drove might not be the most attractive color choice, but it shouldn’t offend either. Buick buyers could be categorized as generally kind of conservative in how much they want to show off on the road, and the Regal fits right in with that.

As part of the drive to improve fuel economy, General Motors will be making use of more four cylinder engines in future products. The Regal comes standard with the same engine found in the Opel: a 2.4 liter four that makes an impressive 182 horsepower and gets the power delivered through a standard 6-speed automatic transmission.

There’s no option of a V6, but for those seeking more driving excitement, an available 2.0 liter turbo engine (again from the Opel) is rated at a very impressive 220 horsepower, yet is still capable of 29 mpg on the highway. That’s down just a bit from the standard engine’s EPA highway rating of 30.

So can Buick buyers, perhaps used to smoother V6 and V8 engines, get by with this frugal little four? Probably. The only little hiccup with the German-sourced 2.4 is that it isn’t the smoothest in the world at low speeds. Pulling away from a rest, there’s a little bit of moaning from under the hood. It’s not entirely bothersome, but the base engines in cars like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and even the Ford Fusion are much more refined.

Nevertheless, the Regal doesn’t lack for power. Nor does it lack for comfort, as the standard leather buckets are nice and firm, very supportive, and easily adjustable. Buick decided that for its initial model year there would only be one trim level available called CXL. That’s probably to simplify manufacturing at the plant in Germany, since 2011 Regals will be built alongside Opel Insignias. When the 2012s come around, production will move to North America and there will be other variants available. (Presumably for less money and with fewer features. Enterprise Rent-a-Car anyone?)

For now, we get the very well equipped Regal CXL which isn’t a bad thing. Those leather front seats are heated, and stylish 18” aluminum wheels are also included, as is Bluetooth audio for hands-free phone use. Base price for the Regal CXL is $26,995 and the CXL Turbo model starts at $29,495, both those prices including destination charge.

I’m eager to get my hands on the 2.0 turbo version, which will also offer Interactive Drive Control that can adjust the suspension settings electronically. In standard trim, the Regal felt just a little soft to me, an obvious change from its Opel sibling.

Buick survived the turbulent times of the Detroit auto industry in recent years. Now it must prosper as GM gets back on its feet, and the Regal should help it do just that.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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